The British Petroleum oil rig explosion of spring 2010 continues to wreak havoc on the fragile ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico. From space, satellites have captured images of the toxic sludge covering more than 3,000 square miles of ocean. Each day, more than one million gallons of oil continue to pollute the Gulf’s fragile waters– followed by barrels of potentially dangerous chemicals designed to contain the spill. The impact on wildlife will, no doubt, be catastrophic– but what about the humans who consume seafood regularly?
Conscientious consumers may want to avoid taking chances with seafood harvested in the Gulf of Mexico or the surrounding regions of the Atlantic. Fish and shellfish harvested from hundreds of miles away from the spill’s epicenter can still be affected by the toxins it produces. Furthermore, concerned activists may choose to temporarily avoid seafood altogether– this could give our oceans the much-needed space necessary for recovery.
Even before the BP oil spill, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration advised consumers to avoid certain species of seafood in the Gulf of Mexico. The FDA warns that tilefish in the Gulf of Mexico may have mercury levels as high as 3.730 parts per million– nearly eight times the maximum amount considered safe for human consumption. Couple that with the influx of toxins from the oil rig explosion and its aftermath, and you’ll see a recipe for disaster.
Toxins accumulate in fish according to a process known as biomagnification. A fish may eat a small amount of phytoplankton tainted with pollutants, and its predators consume the toxins in its flesh. Animals like sharks and swordfish, which ride the top of the food chain, absorb all the heavy metals, dioxins and PCBs found in their prey. For this reason, predatory species living hundreds of miles from the BP oil rig explosion can still experience the deadly effects of its pollution.
Some species of fish will travel dozens of miles each day, collecting toxin-laced prey along the journey. The boundless Atlantic ocean is home to hundreds of fish that regularly visit the Gulf of Mexico; many will carry trace amounts of petroleum toxins into other regions of the world. Because of biomagnification, some fish in the Indian or Pacific oceans may be poisoned by the BP oil rig explosion if they eat prey– or the predators of prey– that have visited the outer regions of the Gulf of Mexico.
While there is not yet any substantial evidence suggesting that seafood from the Gulf of Mexico is dangerous, there is a lack of evidence to support its safety. Additionally, while the oil has not spread to the surrounding waters of the Atlantic, experts can not yet confirm that it is remained unaffected.
Seafood from the area surrounding the Gulf of Mexico is unlikely to be acutely toxic; the Food and Drug Administration will likely recall any seafood that becomes severely tainted. However, concerned consumers may want to avoid all seafood until the panic has abated. A temporary boycott of Gulf of Mexico seafood could offer consumers peace of mind– while also giving our oceans a much-needed chance to recover from the catastrophe.